Earlier this month, ICL partnered with the nonprofit group EcoFlight to do a series of overflights of two mining projects of interest in the vicinity of Mackay, ID – the Empire Mine Project and Navarre Creek Exploration Project. These projects, which are both owned by Phoenix Copper (a UK company) and Konnex Resources (their U.S. subsidiary) are at different stages of development, with neither imminently becoming an operating mine. But both projects have raised some initial community concern in the Mackay area and are worth monitoring from an environmental standpoint given the projects’ proximity to the Big Lost River and potential effects on wildlife and other values. For these overflights, we took Mackay city council members, local media members, and economic development leaders into the air to get this unique perspective of the mining projects in development in their backyard.

Empire Mine Project

The Empire Mine Project is a proposed open-pit copper oxide mine located in the historically-mined area known as Mine Hill, approximately 5 miles from the town of Mackay. We previously wrote about this project nearly two years ago, and not a whole lot has changed since in regards to the project’s permitting status. The mining company filed an initial Plan of Operations (PoO) in June 2021 to develop this open pit mine, which the BLM rejected as incomplete. As of the writing of this blog, the company has not yet filed a revised PoO. Once they do so, the BLM will once again determine whether or not the PoO is complete; if it is, then they will begin the environmental review process and develop a draft environmental impact statement. Only then will we be able to truly understand what kind of disturbance is proposed by this project and what the environmental impacts may be.

The location of the proposed Empire Mine project. EcoFlight photo.

On our recent overflight of the project area, two things were quite evident: 1) the close proximity of the project site to the town of Mackay and 2) the large extent of old mine workings, roads, and related disturbance. Unlike most mining projects in Idaho, which tend to be located hours down dirt roads deep in the backcountry, this project would very much be in Mackay’s backyard (with the potential community impacts that come with that proximity). Previous mining in the Mine Hill area resulted in lingering soil contamination issues from high-arsenic tailings. 

Historic mining workings and roads in the Empire Mine area. EcoFlight photo.

If you want to see this project from the air yourself, just follow this link: Empire Mine Project overflight.

Navarre Creek Exploration Project

The Navarre Creek Exploration Project is an early-stage gold exploration project located in the basin encompassing Navarre Creek and its tributaries, approximately 7 miles from Mackay. Konnex began exploration drilling in this area this past summer under a Categorical Exclusion approval from the U.S. Forest Service, with 30 pads expected to be drilled this year. If this initial drilling program returns favorable results from the company, they would likely try to proceed with an expanded drilling proposal to better characterize the gold resource in the area. Given that this is just early-stage exploration, it would be quite some time before this would develop into an operating mine (if at all).

A recently constructed drill pad in the Navarre Creek drainage. EcoFlight photo.

Our overflight of this area – which is a beautiful and mostly undeveloped basin with perennial flowing water – contrasted with flight over the dry and previously mined canyon where the Empire project is proposed. There has certainly been some mineral prospecting in the Navarre basin in the past, but nothing in the way of large-scale modern exploration and mining.

An overview of the Navarre Creek area. EcoFlight photo.

If you want to see this project from the air yourself, just follow this link: Navarre Creek Exploration Project overflight.

What’s next?

ICL will continue to monitor these projects closely as they progress through permitting. We are committed to listening to the local community in Mackay regarding any environmental and/or community concerns with these two projects and providing our support to local advocates with an interest in what may be coming down the pike in their backyard. While these projects could present an economic opportunity to this region, mining economics are famously volatile and often come with costs to the environment. If any of these mining projects are to come to fruition, they must be designed in a way that protects community interests and public health and that provides clear benefits to the surrounding environment. 

We’d like to thank EcoFlight for making the recent overflights of this area possible! EcoFlight’s mission is to educate and advocate for the protection of remaining wild lands and wildlife habitat using stakeholder overflights in small aircraft.

If you’re interested in getting involved in mining issues right now, please consider taking action to oppose the 2023 CuMo Exploration Project – a mining exploration project proposal in the headwaters of the Boise River, which poses major threats to water quality, fish, wildlife, and recreation.